ister James was a gracious hostess and a good friend to my wife and me when we were in Bermuda. Every morning for breakfast she cut up fruit for us even though she didn’t have to. She wore a smile everywhere she went. She knew everybody; and whenever we traveled to town with her, the errand that should have taken about an hour stretched into two because she had to greet and encourage everyone. She is a merry soul, and Angela and I miss her and her family.
So I was delighted to get a phone call from her a week ago. At first she wanted to know general stuff, like how we were doing, how school was going, and how Angela’s pregnancy was developing. Then she moved to a seemingly harmless topic—the weather.
“And how is the weather up there?”
“Oh, Sister James,” I lamented as I thought of the dead brown grass that felt like needles on bare feet, “we haven’t had rain for years.”
“Hmm . . . well, I’ll pray about that.” In my ignorance I took this to be a benign statement reflecting nothing more than Christian courtesy. I forgot whom I was dealing with. Sister James was of the old school: one of those church-women who may have spent more time with the Lord than the entire pastoral staff in the conference—a pillar of spiritual discipline and power. We said our goodbyes, and I hung up the phone.
It was thunder; not just thunder, but a thundering pummeling of rain.
The Bible says: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man [or woman] availeth much” (James 5:16, KJV). And as I stared out my living room window at the stupendous storm, I tried to understand how the weather had changed so drastically, and whether or not it was related to the phone conversation I’d just had. (Incidentally, while writing this, I received a letter from Sister James telling me how she prayed for rain for our “barren land” and how “God is never late.”)
It’s easy to think of prayer as a formality and forget just how powerful it is. Prayer heals the sick (Gen. 20:17), calls fire down from heaven (1 Kings 18:36-38), acquires answers for the future (Dan. 2:17, 18), and apparently affects the weather (see above story and James 5:17). Too often we make prayer nothing more than a liturgical practice in church while we try to sort out our problems with our own efforts during the week.
Ellen White wrote: “Do not cease to pray. The Lord will hear the prayer of the contrite heart. Repeat the promise. ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’ With this threefold promise God desires to impress your hearts with the assurance that if you will go to him in your need, he will surely help you.”* Despite abundant evidence in Scripture and the writings of Ellen White that prayer does work, I still need experiences and the example of others to make it real to me.
I will be graduating from the seminary in a few months, and when I reflect on experiences like this, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a novice at real, effectual, fervent prayer. I realize how much I often lean on my own efforts and how I’m often disconnected from God. And while I will continue to learn, study, and practice prayer, it is vital for all of us—every pastor and parishioner—to have someone like Sister James in our lives, a prayer warrior who will pinch-hit for us when our spiritual life and our prayer life are as dry as the summer heat.
This month, seek out those prayer warriors in your church or community. Many times they are older members who don’t receive as much attention as some of the other personalities in the congregation. Find them and spend some time with them, learn from their experiences and ask them to pray with you and for you. Who knows what showers of blessing may rain down in your life as a result?
In the meantime I need to call Sister James. I’ve thought of a few other items for her to pray about.
*Ellen White, “Wise Counsel to Youth,” Youth’s Instructor, April 28, 1908.
Seth Pierce studies at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He and his wife, Angela, live in Berrien Springs, Michigan. His latest book, What We Believe: Fundamental Beliefs for Teens, is available from Pacific Press.